Darwin complicit in manipulating photos

Jul 02, 2009

When Darwin came to publish The Expression of the Emotions in 1872, he employed images made by five photographers to illustrate the wide variation in human facial expressions. A new study of the way that two of these photographers operated reveals the extent to which Darwin’s photographs were manipulated.

The photographic image can be seen both as a mirror of reality and a construction of reality. But in the nineteenth century, few people appreciated the subtle ways in which the photographer, the subject and the camera itself could interfere with the representation of reality.

For scientists like , the photographic image promised unprecedented objectivity, apparently removing the subjectivity of the photographer from the equation altogether. And when it came to preparing his book on The Expression of the Emotions, published in 1872, Darwin yielded to this promise.

The two photographers analyzed here had rather different backgrounds: French physician and physiologist Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne and Swedish-born artistic photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander. But both of them manipulated the construction of the images to give Darwin what he needed for his theorizations, says Tatiana C. Gonçalves of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine in London and the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil.

In spite of his scientific training, Duchenne got his subjects to pull facial movements that did not necessarily correspond to real expressions, says Gonçalves. And in order to capture the quick movements that Darwin wanted, Rejlander had to fake situations to photograph, she says. Gonçalves will present her full argument on Thursday 2 July at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester, UK.

“The images made by these two photographers offers an excellent case-study for investigating the general assumptions, intrinsic characteristics and particularities of the photographic medium as it was used in late nineteenth-century science,” concludes Gonçalves.

Source: British Society for the History of Science

Explore further: Tackling tiny mites to bring major benefits to egg suppliers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Analysis of documentary photos revises history

Dec 11, 2007

By analyzing some lesser known photographs, taken by world famous documentary photographers, art historian Cecelia Strandroth relates a new history of the Depression Era in the United States. She will publicly defend her ...

Study finds facial expressions are inherited

Nov 07, 2006

Scientists have found that family members share a facial expression “signature”—a unique form of the universal facial expressions encountered worldwide. In a rare study taking into account blind subjects, Gili Peleg, ...

Evolution revolution

Nov 22, 2005

The blue-footed booby, the giant turtle and the horned toad are among several unusual creatures currently on show at The American Museum of Natural History. They form part of new exhibition, running until May ...

Hybrid Human Faces Could Populate Google Street View

Jul 30, 2008

Due to privacy concerns, Google has been blurring the faces of people caught on Google Street View cameras. But rather than blurring people's faces and diminishing the reality of the scene, researchers have ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.